Adapting an Inclusive Curriculum in an Inclusive Classroom
“A strength-based classroom is a place where students with all sorts of labels come together as equals to form a new type of learning environment.” Thomas Armstrong
In an inclusive classroom, the teacher’s aim is to meet the children’s needs. Children with and without disabilities have the right to an equal education in a safe and caring environment. All children are entitled to learn alongside their peers and not feel singled out. An inclusive classroom values all contributions that students bring and ensure to instil a feeling of accomplishment among like-minded children. Booth et al (2002) argues that the principles of the National Inclusion Statement rely on core values and the positive ethos of the school and these encouraged and put into effect on a daily basis in the classroom. Student learning can be enhanced by providing a classroom tone that is friendly, caring and supportive, and to encourage them to be an active member of the classroom. Children should be supported in thinking for themselves and to ask questions openly and know that there is no wrong question. “Most importantly, children have the right to be consulted and taken account of, to physical integrity, to access to information, to freedom of speech and opinion, and to participate in and challenge decisions made on their behalf.” (Smith, 1997) Inclusion can only work if schools have the right attitude, an efficient support system, teacher training, as well as achievable educational goals for each student.
Students need to be encouraged to bring diverse perspectives to the subject that is being taught. The curriculum is the primary means for implementing the principles of inclusion within an education environment. Developing a curriculum that will support and develop each student will involve teachers having to extend their learning beliefs outside the normally taught curriculum. An inclusive curriculum is based on the belief that learning occurs when students are actively involved and take control of their experiences (Udvari-Solnar, 1996). In an inclusive environment students should not be expected to keep up with other students but to keep learning and thrive at their own pace. Inclusive curriculum development should be seen as a continuous process and closely intertwined with social inclusion. The same curriculum can be taught to students of different abilities. Differentiated approaches go further than the curriculum– differentiating the learning environment and class grouping (heterogeneous or homogeneous) all need to be based on the students and their interests. Effective curriculum differentiation all depends on how the teacher delivers the information to the students; how the students use this information; and how the students relay it in the classroom. Curriculum differentiation ensures that all students are not discriminated against and are all taught as being part of the same class.
Curriculum Differentiation can be implemented through the following processes:
What and how the information is taught to students.
• Teaching methodologies
What methods and activities students use to understand the lesson?
The assessments show how students understand the lessons that they have been taught and are learning. Assessments should be on-going as student development continues over time.
The complexity arises with this ideal situation of everyone learning in the same environment when it is put into everyday practice. Implementing an inclusive curriculum will require modifying the education system at all levels. The thought of this makes schools feel apprehensive as there is no universal model to follow and they will need to provide adequate teacher training to all staff members. Teachers feel anxious as there are no clear objectives on what effective inclusion should be, and they will need to re-evaluate their pedagogies to become more flexible in the classroom. Even in light of these obstacles, I still believe that implementing inclusive education is possible as long as schools and teachers alike realise that the content is modified but the topic remains the same. Unfortunately, the curriculum is one of the substantial barriers that learning faces. As educators, we need to engage in different ways of presenting material and thinking outside the box by providing different activities that engage learners and give them the freedom to choose the activity that engages them the most. Schools and teachers need to take on the responsibility to ensure that the learning environment provided is as conducive and as stimulating as possible for all learners.
As Carol Ann Tomlinson (1996) states, “In a way, it’s just shaking up the classroom so it’s a better fit for kids.”
The classroom environment is one of the most important factors to influence student learning. That is to say, students learn more effectively when they feel that the learning environment is positive and encouraging (Dorman, Aldridge, & Fraser, 2006). A positive environment stems from students feeling a sense of belonging, trustworthiness, and feel encouraged to problem solve, take risks, and ask questions (Bucholz & Sheffler, 2009). A positive classroom environment can be achieved by, making learning relevant to the students, develop rules within the classroom, helping students develop intrinsic motivation, encourage positive behaviours and ensure to always respond with positivity. A calm and enjoyable atmosphere is essential for a positive environment. The classroom must be spacious with adequate ventilation and light. Teachers should encourage the students to have input on how the classroom is designed and help in establishing the class rules. A multimodal environment is an approach in which learning is taught using more than one sensory mode (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). Kress et al. (2005) believe that these modes are delivered through classroom layout, teacher movement, visual display, speech, gaze, gesture and embodiment, voice quality and students’ movement within the classroom. All of these individual modes can be creatively combined to produce meaning, encourage interaction and instil a positive working environment.
Visual Displays in the Classroom
Displaying pupils work around the classroom is a powerful way of showing them that their work is valued. It creates a sense of achievement. It can encourage pupil motivation to become engaged in the lesson. Visual displays are a fantastic learning aid for students, as many children are visual learners, they are more receptive to images and colour than to long paragraphs of information. Displays can be used to communicate to others what the class are learning about. A good display should be informative and easy to understand. Classroom displays can merely be seen as decoration to make the classroom look brighter and a more interesting and stimulating environment but if people look beyond the colourful room they will see the excitement in student’s eyes when they see their work being displayed for all to see. Visual displays should be on-going and a collaborative effort from the whole class. Teachers need to encourage students to contribute to the display and be part of its creation and meaning. Students need to be encouraged to take pride in their work and show it off.
Visual displays are a hot topic of conversation for teachers, some have the creativity to achieve them while others feel that they are challenging and their upkeep is just time wasting. Some argue they prefer the minimalist approach to visual displays while others agreed that the more vibrancy in the classroom the better. In my classroom, I would allocate display boards to different topics but give the responsibility of adding to the topics to the students. Students need to feel a sense of duty and know that their input in providing a positive classroom environment is valued and to encourage them to make the choice of content their own. I would motivate children to use colour in their displays to attract the attention of the students, but not to overload the display with too many colours and too much information, as this could overstimulate the students and become a distraction rather than an aid.
Classroom seating arrangements are the most important part of forming the physical classroom environment (McCorskey & McVetta, 1978). Classroom seating arrangements can support the overall atmosphere, or mood, of any given classroom. In an inclusive classroom environment, desks should be grouped together to encourage group work and portray a sense of community within the classroom (Kress et al, 2005: 26). The cluster desk arrangement gives students a chance to interact with one another. All students in the classroom should feel part of the seating arrangement and not feel that they are ostracised to the back of the room. Students should also be given a chance to choose their group and seating arrangement from time to time. To establish a sense of community in the classroom large tables could be used for students to sit at rather than individual desks. Teachers need to be flexible with regard to seating arrangements, they need to realise that the arrangement may need to change depending on the student’s needs. “There is no ideal classroom layout for all activities.” (Sommer, 1977) Issues can occur within the classroom when teachers do not choose the seating arrangements carefully and significantly (O’Hare, 1998). The students need to be placed in an arrangement that will keep them focused on the lesson and not deter them from learning.
Even though seating arrangements encourage the core environment of a classroom, this arrangement can also cause problems in the classroom, as students can develop negative feelings about being allocated to a specific seat. Students who are sat towards the back of the classroom may feel that this is in reflection to their work and to their behaviour. I would encourage different seating arrangements for different activities. Students would be moved around the classroom on a regular basis to ensure no feelings of favouritism.
Fostering a Positive ‘Flow’ in the classroom
If you ask any teacher, what is their ideal classroom environment? They will tell you having eager children who want to learn, who utilise every resource available to them and have focus. Teachers want their students to find “flow,” in the subjects that are being taught to them. They want their students to feel so engaged at the task in hand that they black out all the distractions around them. Csikszentmihalyi (1997) found that flow sharpens learning and encourages curiosity regarding a subject. Although “Flow” is not always a given in classroom environments here are ways that have been researched to aid in incorporating positive flow in the classroom.
1. Challenge kids. According to Csikszentmihalyi, activities should be challenging but just challenging enough to stimulate the students learning abilities. It is important to find the common ground, where students are not too anxious or too bored to quit.
2. Make lessons feel relevant to students’ lives. When students can relate activities to their own experiences, they are more interested in learning what the outcome will be.
3. Encourage choice. Students should be given the opportunity to choose their own activities and work independently or as a group, they will engage more with the task if they chose it.
4. Set clear goals. Flow is apparent when an activity has clear goals, which gives students a clear vision of what is required from them. As students’ progress toward these goals, teachers should provide feedback throughout the lesson. By receiving feedback; students can modify their work in a way that helps them stay in “flow”.
5. Build positive relationships. Positive relationships between teachers and students help motivate flow. Ensure students feel that their input is valued and communication is carried out respectfully by all creating a positive classroom ethos.
6. Deep concentration. For students to feel constant flow they need to be completely engrossed in the lesson. This may be difficult to achieve in such short periods as it will be difficult to work without interruption.
7. Hands-on activities. Hands-on activities often spark student’s interests more so than passive activities. Making things, solving problems, watching videos, all create more interesting thoughts than just sitting listening to a teacher lecture.
8. Make them laugh. Humour is an excellent way to engage children in the classroom. It shows enthusiasm towards a subject and takes away the feeling of monotony.
Research shows that effective classroom management and organization during the first few weeks of class are crucial in determining expectations, behaviour patterns, and procedures that will set the tone for the rest of the year. According to Murray ; Pianta (2009: 108), “Classroom structures, rules, routines, and activities convey a sense of community and continuity to students. All teachers are aware of the importance of creating classroom environments that have structures in place that ensure the safety of students, promote positive behaviour, and ensure the flow of classroom activities in ways that minimize distractions and disruptions”.
In the words of Stephen Hawking “One of the basic rules of the Universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.”
In order to establish my perfect classroom, a number of critical questions need to be answered. How can an ideal classroom be created in an imperfect world? In short, it cannot. Even though Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow is an admiral aspiration, it must be critiqued in order to analyse its true application in a functioning everyday classroom. There are no direct methods on how to incorporate “flow” into the classroom. Throughout Csikszentmihalyi’s theory, all the conditions are extremely favourable; there is no room for unexpected, negative behaviour. It’s important to note that one can’t experience flow if distractions interrupt the activity (Nakamura et al., 2009). Thus, to experience this state of flow, one has to ignore any distractions that may occur around them.
I believe the benefits of Flow outweigh the risks. While outside influences can have a negative effect on the implementation of flow, the creation of a highly structured and stable environment can effectively manage these distractions through environmental and teacher lead systems. Flow keeps the mind focused on the task at hand and children feel a sense of achievement after completing the activity to the best of their ability.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Flow creates an environment in which students buy into the education process and in doing so gain a greater sense of achievement and success.
Adapting an Inclusive Curriculum in an Inclusive Classroom